Gene Ort's Blog

A Life Altering Evening in Capernaum

by on Jul.30, 2017, under Common Man Commentary, Israel

“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””
Matthew 9:13 ESV

First century housing and synagogue in Capernaum. Home to Jesus and Matthew..

How revealing this passage is to the true heart of God. Mercy and Grace are attributes of love. Sacrifice is a transaction to satisfy a debt, a payment made. Commerce.
Our Father ( the heavenly one ) would prefer the love of a broken sinful child to the satisfied check list of the dutiful loveless. He wants my heart, not my completed list of kept rules.

The story of Matthew’s invitation from Jesus is moving to me. I relate to Matthew in many ways even though I lack the notorious tax collector elements. I do though remember well the way I was treated by the religious authority figures in my early life as a recently “saved” hippy in the early 70’s. In the days before I learned to conform to the look and feel of organized religion I was very aware of the ” I didn’t quite fit in ” vibe coming my way. I remember telling my friends that I was glad to be a Christian in spite of the church. I did however learn to adapt and “fit in”. The nearly shoulder length hair was cut, I only smoked cigarettes in private and I shed a hand full of unacceptable vices.
I think I had something going for me that helped me “stick it out”. My very early days in Christ following were spent away from the organized church where I had accepted Christ. I pretty much dove into the little paperback New Testament bible on my own. Me and Jesus, getting to know each other. I worked the night shift at a horrible factory in Kalamazoo Michigan and was quickly branded a Jesus freak. If you don’t go out partying there is a lot more time for study. I had a true heart changing experience with Jesus on a personal level. It began to shift the way I thought and lived. For months I had almost no contact with organized church.
As things do, that changed when we moved back to Niles and I got involved with a Jesus movement hippy church where I had first accepted Christ. After a brief period of euphoria, things fell apart at the hippy church. Eventually we attended a traditional local church where the adaptation “took on steam”. I did in the church what I had learned to do in other areas of my life. I worked. I volunteered. I signed up. I climbed. I achieved in the best way I could. It was the best path to self importance I had ever found. I found out that the church loves work-a-holics. Somehow in the process I had drifted away from the Jesus I had met in those early days of isolated learning. I was very involved in church related stuff. The activities were a great substitute ( or so it appeared) for authentic relationship with Jesus. I had successfully traded in my friendship with Jesus for transactional religion. The effects on my soul were devastating. Several traditional church’s later, I was invited into a discipleship friendship without even knowing it by a guy named Rob Wegner. He happened to be a pastor at the church I was attending. He was the first pastor in a long line of pastors who invited me into his life and began this discipleship journey without ever calling it that. We spent time together. He shared special books with me. It looked a lot like friendship with Jesus as the centerpiece.
As I think back on those days there is a similarity to what Rob did with me and what Jesus did with Matthew in vs 9:9. Rob said : Wanna come with me ? Jesus said : Follow Me. One translation has Jesus saying ” come along with me”. The point of this is not so much about celebrating Rob’s friendship and discipling but to point out that discipleship is not a program. Its foundation is in relationship which is always going to look a lot like friendship.
So, this passage has a funny twist for me.. It’s Matthew writing about how he met Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Maybe I’m just easily entertained but that’s a bit comedic to me. It also makes me lean in a little. There is a pretty good chance he is telling the story well. He says.. later at Matthews place.. Jesus was there with his people and some of Matthew’s buddies also show up. These are not ” church folk “.
Before we talk about the religious guys hanging around to watch over Jesus’s actions lets address what doesn’t make friends. Scolding. Lets say Jesus knows that Matthew is a tax collector. I think that ones pretty clear, it says that he found him in a tax collectors booth. It’s pretty widely known that the Jews ( and most everyone else) all hate tax collectors, so the invitation to hang out with Jesus had to take Matthew a little by surprise. He a pretty famous guy that people call Rabbi ( teacher). Rabbi and the Jews in general are not allowed to even be near tax collectors and sinners of any kind.
They are there .. hanging out.. talking .. eating some lamb.. maybe sipping a little Mogan David.. This does not sound adversarial to me. It does not sound like a church service. It sounds like people sharing a meal together and sharing life. Getting to know each other. I cant see Jesus scolding Matthew and his buddies for their many sins, pointing them out, one by one. I think that would have ended the party pretty quickly. Instead we see them ” getting cozy” according to what the Pharisees say. This ” getting cozy” with sinners sets the religious guys teeth on edge. This would be viral all over Facebook and the news if it happened today. ” Jesus, has been hanging with sinners ! ” Somebody would have gotten video. So Jesus.. who has been calm so far with his new friends suddenly flares up in the direction of the “religious know it all’s “: Who needs a doctor ? The healthy or the sick ? Go figure out what this means: I am after Mercy, not religion ! I am here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders !

People do not fall in love with people who scold them until long after they know that they are loved by them. We love people who see past our flaws and love us anyway. That kind of love makes us better people. Jesus is telling everyone in the room that he wants Love ( which always requires mercy ) and not dutiful, transactional religion!

I am struck again by the beautiful heart of Jesus, who is the face of God for us to see.
This is who He is ! Jesus wants to help us escape the gravitational pull of dutiful religion and embrace love, His natural language.

Mercy and Grace.. even for me.. a friend of Matthew’s on a life altering evening in Capernaum.


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Sermon on the Mount

by on Jul.16, 2017, under Israel, Uncategorized

This is located very near to where it is believed “The Sermon on the Mount” was given. It is very near the northern most point of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan river enters the lake. It’s walking distance to Capernaum. It’s a few hundred yards from where the fishermen of the first century would have kept their boats.

Jesus says : “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:24-29‬ ‭MSG‬‬ edited.

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Israel Study Tour 2017 – Courage in the Promised Land

by on Jun.04, 2017, under Common Man Commentary, Gene, Israel

A few years back, I was part of a team of guys who went to Egypt to travel the way of the Exodus. It was an extraordinary trip.  We saw Cairo, cruised the Nile river, visited the museum..hung out at the Pyramids.. then we followed the path the Israelites took as they exited Egypt… we however.. had a van, complete with an armed guard. We camped at the base of Mount Sinai and then we climbed it. There are several older blog posts that speak to that trip.

That trip ended at Mount Nebo where Moses was stopped by God from entering the promised land. As I stood there.. looking at the signs with the posted mileage to a variety of Israeli cities I had a definite sense that my trip was not complete. I needed to go to Israel.  After a couple of failed attempts I presumed the trip just wasn’t going to happen. So I went to Manchu Pichu. That was 2015. In April of this year I got an email from Walk The Text saying there was a cancellation and they asked me if I wanted to go. It seemed to be perfect timing.

This blog is about that trip. In May I took part in a study tour of Israel called: Walk The Text, lead by Brad Gray. It was a wonderful trip. Great people and a great teaching.  With respect for the tour I wont be doing to many “spoiler alerts” to deminish any ones future trips.  I wont be following any particular order.

On the first day.. stop number three, we found ourselves on a hillside overlooking The Valley of Elah, the location of the famous battle between David and Goliath. The picture is from the Phillistine side of the battle called ” SoKor”. I found setting on that side a little disconcerting. As the teacher (who is brilliant) told the story with many details I had never known before, the story came to life in a way I never imagined.  One fact that had been left out of the story that I have heard many times was the path the Philistines were taking on their destructive journey to Jerusalem. David’s home town, Bethlehem was directly in the way. At that time it was nothing more than a village and easily destroyed leaving everyone either killed or enslaved.  When David saw the Philistine encampment, it was clear to him that failure to defeat them would mean doom for his family and everyone he knew.

Everyone knows the story so repeating it would be silly, but there is one part of it that I have never heard discussed when I was in attendance.

The story portrays David in this larger than life and reality perspective that I think is over glamorized and romanticized. I think David has a strong faith in God to deliver both him and the nation of Israel but I don’t think he was completely without fear of the super human monster called Goliath and the Philistine army that were spread out on the hill in front of them. That just goes against every experience I have had as a human being and the experiences recorded by everyone one else in the Bible, even Jesus on the night he was betrayed before he was crucified.

David was afraid, but he did not let the fear alter his response to what he saw needed to be done. There was to much at stake. The story does indicate that David had experienced God’s intervention into crisis situations in his past which would have indeed increased his confidence in God.. but giants and armies are giants and armies. To pretend this was no big deal diminishes the very real danger that was present before everyone there. I think it’s important to allow David to be human. A human who knew God, but a human none the less.

I was reminded today when a good friend became vulnerable and open about some anxiety he had been experiencing. I think there are few human charactoristics more powerful than that kind of disclosure. The openness often clears the path for all kinds of inner healing to take place and gives the rest of us a boost of encouragement to help us face our own fears.. I have many..

As I prayerfully pondered what he shared, this is what I wrote :

“There is a type of courage that comes directly from God. Its not to be confused with bravado, a pretense of immunity to fear that we see in our culture. The courage that comes from God is the unique ability to “do it afraid”. This kind of courage is not the absence of fear. It says: what must be done, must be done regardless of how I feel at this moment. It comes from a knowing we are not alone. It pushes back the fear for the good of those around us. The core of this kind of courage is love. It denies the self the false luxury of paralyzation. This power to do it afraid comes from God alone and is modeled in the words of Jesus: “May this cup of suffering pass from me.. but not my will, but your will be done!” Spoken in prayer to God in the garden of Gethsemane.”
— for those of us who know what its like to feel the fear of uncertainty and the frailty of life this side of heaven.


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Fruitful Effects

by on Sep.03, 2016, under Common Man Commentary


The character of God is love, generosity, kindness, mercy, goodness, holiness. It makes sense to say if we are in Him and He is in us that we would begin to display these same kinds of characteristics. I think religion somehow pulls us out of that truth. It makes being a Christian an academic pursuit with performance as a goal instead of restored relationship with God resulting in actual character traits being changed. Similar to learning how to test well in school by memorizing the answers without understanding the subject.

I/we need to be restored to humanity as God intended. With the character traits of our heavenly Father in place.
Character defines behavior. It is true that we are not perfected in this divine character yet but we should be seeing signs of this transformation in our lives. The fruitful effect of time spent with God, Him rubbing off on us.

“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”
‭‭James‬ ‭2:14-17‬ ‭MSG‬‬

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Holy Narcissisim – Wanting our own way

by on Apr.22, 2016, under Uncategorized


Wanting our own way.   1st Corinthians 10: 6-12

The ancient Israelites saw miracles, were set free from slavery and all their physical needs were met. They saw God’s wonder and grace. Yet they failed. A surprise to God, I doubt it. It is a picture of who we are most of the time. Paul says it can happen to us just as easily as it did them.

The warning: “be on guard”… against what? Wanting our own way!
Wanting our own way is our cultural norm! Our culture is saturated with wanting our own way.

Being “on guard” … that’s a militaristic term. Standing ready, alert, prepared. Weapon out of the holster. Not asleep at the wheel.

Not wanting our own way…. This teaching is counter intuitive. We all want our way. Pain-free if possible. Well fed, well rested, well healed, well respected, etc. Wanting someone else’s way doesn’t even sound right. Unless that is what we were really designed to do and don’t know it.
Actually wanting “God’s way” in my life means I half to believe he has my best interest at heart, and that he has the desire to make my life better then I can make it on my own. We say: Father, your will be done, not my will be done.
This is directly opposed to my personal rebellion!
My Rebellion says: “my way” or you will be punished to some varying degree. With a child, it looks like a tantrum! The same is true of all of us (adults) at sometime or another. Tantrums abound.
Narcissism is defined as “excessive self interest”. We are to “guard our hearts” against such self interest. But there is a good self interest. In essence, surrender to God is the ultimate self interest. For he has our best interest always at heart, but with the clearest perspective of our life. Similar to that of a good parent to child.
When that healthy relationship is in place, We cry Abba father. We are to guard against narcissism and push past this rebellion to surrender to him who loves us, who died for us, and lives for us, who will live with us!
Paul was calling us to “excessive God interest”, a kind of “holy narcissism”.

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Good Friday Tradition

by on Apr.04, 2015, under Spiritual


For several years now, weather permitting I try to take Good Friday off from work and break the rhythm of normal daily living. My favorite way to do this is to find a woods somewhere and hike a little. I look for a decent place to set and read the bible account of Jesus last days coming up to and including the crucifixion.

I am following the example Jesus gave us when He would often leave His disciples, family and ministry behind and go off and find a deserted place to talk to God in solitude. Most often, I look for places that are nearly void of human construction. Just nature.  Although a well placed bench is always a plus.

This year I hiked a 3.3 mile trail in Lawless park near Jones Michigan. The weather was nearly perfect. Just cold enough to discourage any other hikers from doing the same thing. I saw only one man with a pair of collies. There was a pair of Cranes who’s trumpeting sounded pre-historic as it echoed through the woods and added a little drama to the walk. Nearing the end of my walk, I came across a little area that had a cabin and some picnic shelters and fire pits.  It was a little like wandering into a village and no ones home.

I did not come away from my time alone with God with any stone tablets or conscience revelation, but I did have a solid sense that I had chosen to spend time alone with Him. What He’s does with it, I am not always sure. I am sure of this, there are some things that God wants to give us personally. We take these gifts directly from His hand when we chose to spend time alone with Him.

Luke 5:16     But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.


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On the way to Jerusalem with the bros zebedee

by on Mar.22, 2015, under Common Man Commentary, Spiritual

On the way to Jerusalem ….

In Matthew 20:17  .. Jesus sets his disciples down just off to the side of the road and with great detail tells them what is about to happen to him in the city.  Mocking, torture and crucifixion.  Shortly thereafter the mother of the Zebedee brothers approaches Jesus with a request to promote her boys to the highest ranking office in his coming kingdom.

It would be like me walking up to my children and saying:  I’m on Fire ! and there response being : What are you making me for lunch ?

This is a very clear picture for much of the disguised human condition.  Its insanity and by definition an unknown condition to those infected with the disease.

As all the disciples grapple for position, it’s clear that this seems completely normal to them. It’s the world they live in.

In our own culture today, we give tribute to selflessness and sacrifice in books and movies and give out awards of all kinds for extraordinarily unselfish behavior. But somehow this unselfish characteristic seems like it’s for some of those ” special” people. The talented, generous and gifted. But not for me. I don’t think i’m alone in feeling this way. In this picture the power of self importance was able to rise up right in the middle of a close friends disclosure of eminent and immediate mortality.

Jesus is not surprised.  He tells them they don’t know what they are asking for…. referring to the specific honor they are requesting. He then moves forward quickly to show them the contrasting perspective.

For me, this is the ah hah moment : It’s crucial that we see ourselves in a “real” light.  As painful as that is. Awareness of our own reality is the first step toward sanity. It destroys our pride and breaks our heart and …. we avoid this at nearly all cost.

Jesus has to resort to reminding them of the way godless rulers misuse power and how quickly even the smallest amount of power goes to their heads. ( as true today as then ) He has to teach them using these examples because he knows that they cannot be confronted directly for their own craving for importance. Direct confrontation results in defensiveness and nearly always ends in relational damage of some kind. The disciples are left to come to their life altering conclusions with a picture of correct Godly characteristics to be exhibited in Kingdom life. This is extremely patient.  This is a beautifully painted picture, and Jesus is the artist. God’s way : Become a servant.

When I look at how I fit into this story, I am a bit shaken. I have had a history of service orientation, especially as it relates to organized church. There is a paradox here. I was serving out of impaired motives and yet it was in the midst of serving that I was in contact with other Christ followers that had begun their own journeys out of self centeredness. In recent years I have come to understand even more that my motives were far from selfless. Sparing everyone the details of my painful childhood I can safely jump forward to confessing that I had become a self-important, type A driver, image manager with all the baggage that comes in tow with it. I am pretty sure I was unaware of my condition and was able to defend my position fiercely. Not unlike the bros Zebedee and the other disciples.

As awareness of my “condition” grew I experienced a good deal of fear and internal pressure. If I give up my need to feel important, what will be left? What if my own broken soul hates feeling small and insignificant. My identity was completely wrapped up in my need to be important and my self perception of superiority. The “condition” was given a name when I read a book by Brennan Manning called: Abba’s Child. He called it ” The Imposter”.  When I read of Brennan’s coming aware, it was like l was reading my own life story.

The bros Zebedee made their move, the other guys were furious..  they proclaimed .. “line jumpers”!  They cut in line.. with their Momma’s help. They asked “the boss over to dinner”… fill in the blank.. ______________.. foul play …

Serving was a powerful mechanism I used to make myself feel important. It worked pretty well in many ways but had very costly consequences on a lot of relationships. Now I am more “motive-aware” but its a fight. Without self-importance as a motivator I have to ask the real question. What does God want me to do?  This question presumes that I have a close enough relationship to ask the question and hear the answer. This has become of prime importance to me.  Is this not what Jesus was talking about when He said : “Man shall not live by bread alone.. but by every word that is spoken by God!”  Wether it be the written word or the word of God whispered to your heart. Jesus said:  “I only say what the Father tells me to say and I only do what the Father tells me to do.”  Obedience is an act of love and a throttle control. There is plenty of work to do and lots of instruction about what that work looks like, see Matthew 25. But it appears to me the intimate relationship with God has to come first.. and foremost. Jesus modeled this behavior as well as taught about it. He would regularly leave all human relationships and service opportunities behind and go off to be with God by himself. In solitude. Jesus also stressed knowing the scriptures. It’s a spirit lead life we are to lead. Hearing and doing what the Father says. The answer and antidote for self-importance becomes awareness of who God says we are. We are His children. We are loved, even in our present self centered state.

This can sound kinda mystical .. “Hearing from God ” but its what what we are called too. I think it starts with those prayers in the closet Jesus talked about. In front of no one, serving no one. Just communing with God. I think it’s there where we learn to hear His voice and His true call to serve.

For me, I hear His voice say : “Love Me. Love yourself. Love the next person I put in front of you. Keep doing that”.




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Within Himself.. he was thinking

by on Sep.07, 2014, under Common Man Commentary, Spiritual

I wonder what he is thinking..

Hezekiah replied to Isaiah, “Good. If GOD says so, it’s good.” Within himself he was thinking, “But surely nothing bad will happen in my lifetime. I’ll enjoy peace and stability as long as I live.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭39‬:‭8‬ MSG)

Isaiah had just told “Heze” that some pretty terrible things were going to happen in the future to his kingdom and his family.

“Within Himself”… Here is where a good deal of our problems lie. To see it so graphically here makes me shudder a bit, for this is the way most of humanity operates. It’s displayed in nearly every form of news media availble.. 24/7.

Unfortunately I recognize this same kind of wrong thinking within myself at times. The self centered .. ” I’ll be fine as long as I have mine ” mindset. Just plain ugly!

The realization drives me to prayer: Oh Father, only You can root this out of me ( and the rest of my human-kind family). I don’t have the tools to extract this kind of deeply twisted thinking from my soul and mind. I do draw comfort from knowing these kinds of thoughts are clearly in God’s view. Nothing is hidden from Him. If I were not aware of that fact then I am afraid the problem would be even more desperate.

Paul identifies this same issue in this famous passage:

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (‭Romans‬ ‭7‬:‭24-25‬ MSG)

This is wonderfully good news. If we are honest with oursleves, we “within oursleves” consciously or unconsciously have some pretty ugly junk floating around in there. Having access to Jesus through prayer, starts with exposing the junk and bringing it in truth to Him for healing. It’s what He does and who He is. It is a fact that being able to recognize the diseased thinking is a gift from Him in the first place. Even though it wont feel like it.

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (‭Hebrews‬ ‭4‬:‭14-16‬ MSG)

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” He Woke Up “

by on Jan.23, 2014, under Common Man Commentary, Spiritual

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus. (Matthew 1:24, 25 MSG)

Joseph woke up ! He had heard from God ( through a messenger )… in the midst of the chaos.. he has clarity and perspective giving him wisdom and understanding. The results: confidence to move, to act even in the face of turmoil..

As Christ followers we have this same kind of ” God direction ” living in us in the form of the Holy Spirit. He is giving us direction and comfort with the same results: wisdom and understanding.. and the perspective we need to proceed through the chaos. We can have hope and confidence because of The Holy Spirits leading.

How do you hear from God like that ? Time… spending time in heartfelt prayer.. talking to God like the best father you can imagine.. and listening.. for a good long while… He whispers to us.. in what He calls “His still small voice “. These are lost practices in the ” modern church ” but vital to a life of Godly wisdom and understanding. Next is extended time with a bible in your hands.. searching for God in the stories.. He will reveal Himself there.. and you will be blown away.

Sure, Joseph was ” freaked” ! but he was not paralyzed. He moved ! So can we.

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Chaos or “The Plan” – Matthew 1 – Common Man Commentary

by on Jan.22, 2014, under Common Man Commentary

Is there ever a time that change does not feel like chaos?  I don’t think so.

Matthew … a hated tax collector /  traitor turned Christ follower is writing his version of the story of Jesus starting with a family history.

Matthew chapter 1: Lots of normal people..  lots of liars, cheaters, stealers, murders, prostitutes, adulterers.. etc. Kingdoms get built.. Kingdoms get destroyed.. It reminds me of the children’s little dance .. “ and they all fall down”.

The story of Jesus’s birth is packed full of mystery and chaos.

I guess there are two ways to look at this. It really is just chaos.. or it’s a plan. I’m going with plan. The reason is in part because of all of the prophecies that point to this exact scenario. The complexity of the plan is certainly mind boggling. Unraveling the prophecies requires a theological degree. Buts it’s clearly a plan. Not one I would have thought up.. but a plan none the less.

This idea that God has a plan has become so central to my life that every place I see it like this jumps out at me.

God has a plan!

One thing that helps me with the really hard things that happen is knowing that all this foggy stuff I see that appears as chaos is completely transparent to God. While I’m wringing my hands.. He’s saying “ trust Me.. i’ve got this “!

God has a plan.. It’s the good news of Jesus Christ.. it will look like chaos a lot of the time.. to me, but not to Him. He is working this stuff all out.

I trust Him because I know Him. He is good!

“The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term: Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”)”.  Matthew 1:18-23  msg

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